The Phil Knight Invitational first round ends with a ranked matchup as No. 18 Alabama faces No. 12 Michigan State in a sneaky great game. The Spartans have surprisingly looked like a serious contender early in the season, but they’ll be dealing with a couple injuries against an undefeated and well-coached Alabama team.
Let’s take a look at the odds and make some picks and predictions for Thursday’s Thanksgiving matchup.
Alabama vs. Michigan State Odds
Alabama enters as a 3.5-point favorite, with the over/under set at 145 points.
Michigan State has played close games against Gonzaga, Kentucky, and Villanova this season, winning two of them, but the Spartans will be without both Malik Hall and Jaden Akins due to injuries. Is that enough to put faith in Alabama to win by at least four? Nate Oats’ team has passed the smell test early in the season with blowouts against mid-major competition.
Alabama vs. Michigan State Prediction & Pick
Alabama might be too young to be a Final Four contender this season, but the program is in tremendous shape with how well the freshmen have played. With Quinerly getting up to speed and veteran transfer Mark Sears playing as well as expected, the Tide have a chance to be the most complete team on the court Thursday night – especially with Michigan State battling key injuries.
Alabama has fared very well against tough competition under Oats. I’ll take Alabama +4 in hopes this Thanksgiving goes better for the Tide than last year’s loss to Iona.
Alabama vs. Michigan State Key Matchups
This is the first of four major tests for Alabama before conference play. If we’ve learned anything about Oats’ Alabama teams in the past, it’s that they rise to the challenge against tough opponents (and too often sink down to the level of other teams). That’s a promising sign here.
Just as promising is the return of Jahvon Quinerly, the experienced guard who has been eased back into competition but is set to play a big role on Thursday night. That’ll take some of the pressure off Sears and freshman forward Brandon Miller, who have both looked tremendous early in the year. His experience could also help Alabama cut down on turnovers. So far, the Tide rank as one of the nation’s most turnover-prone teams.
Here’s what Alabama does best: Rebound. Alabama has the No.1 rebounding team in the nation to this point, largely due to freshmen. Miller is averaging 9.3 per game, while Noah Clowney has posted 10.8 rebounds per game over his first four collegiate games. This is a huge advantage with Hall out for Michigan State. The Spartans have a few capable rebounders, including breakout center Mady Sissoko, but Hall’s absence will hurt what was already a bit of a disadvantage.
Rebounding won’t be as much of an issue if Michigan State’s shots fall. Joey Hauser is off to an excellent start from beyond the arc, while Tyson Walker looks much improved on the offensive end. It’ll be critical for those two to carry their weight on the offensive end and keep up with a high-scoring Alabama team, but it feels like the Spartans’ success runs through what Sissoki can do. He shined against Gonzaga and Kenucky, but Villanova neutralized him over 26 minutes.
If Sissoko can come out and prove he’s the best player in either frontcourt, Michigan State can win this game like it did against Kentucky. It’s possible, though, that Hall’s absence puts more of Alabama’s attention on Sissoko.